Neighbours on the front line against fracking

Energy giant’s injunction calls them “persons unknown”. But they are builders, farmers, pensioners and beekeepers

Up and down the country, there are people who so terrify the multinational chemicals giant Ineos that it went to court to take out an injunction against them, without even knowing their names.

Addressed to persons unknown”, the injunction prohibits these people – or anyone who helps” them – from pursuing any course of conduct, with a view to compelling another person to abstain from doing or to do any act which that person has a legal right to do or abstain from doing”, under pain of imprisonment, fines or seizure of assets.

It’s worded like something from a satirical novel, so all-encompassing that it’s almost impossible to imagine what its impact looks like in real life. For the people of Eckington and Marsh Lane, in Derbyshire, who NEF visited in late October, it look like this: a muddy field which none of them can even approach.

Two locals showed us the field: its fence, its mud, its singular tree, and warned us to stay well back from the boundaries as we took photos. We were all there, stood in the cold, staring at the injunction fluttering in the wind, because the community is hugely angry about what Ineos plans to do in that field, and with good reason.

The injunction isn’t the only thing that’s ridiculous: a less suitable site for fracking is difficult to imagine.

Only a quarter of a mile from the local school, it’s the highest point for miles. It drains right into farmland and fishing ponds in the valley below. Lapwings and birds of prey call it home, and more than 200 horses graze peacefully nearby. Despite all of this, if the planning application lodged with Derbyshire County Council to explore shale gas reserves is approved, it will be home to a huge floodlit drilling rig and surrounded by an imposing fence. Lorries could thunder through narrow country roads daily. The injunction isn’t the only thing ridiculous about this situation: a less suitable site for fracking is difficult to imagine.

Within days of finding out about the planning application, the residents had gathered at a local pub and organised a committee, Eckington Against Fracking, to oppose Ineos. A month or so later, hundreds of them marched to the site in protest. In September, hundreds more did the same. Up and down the country, groups like Eckington Against Fracking are taking similar action.

Over the past few months, campaigners have organised tea parties outside site gates (to which all security guards were cheerfully invited), heard ex-miners’ accounts of tackling embarrassed fracking spokespeople about the exact geology they plan to drill into, and seen public meetings called to a close due to the sheer volume of heckling.

This is why Ineos is so terrified of campaigners. By coming together lawfully and peacefully, they and others like them can stop fracking. How? Precisely because they are not persons unknown”. They are neighbours, locals, builders, farmers, pensioners, gardeners, healthcare workers, carpenters and even beekeepers, all with strong links to the towns and villages they are prepared to fight, and respected enough to persuade others to join them. They are on the front line of the battle against climate change and for local democracy, and NEF stands ready to help them.

Photo: Bill Palmer

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